Storied structures in Manteo to make way for Town Common

By on June 17, 2019

A rendering depicts the site at Budleigh and Lord Essex streets. Below, the old Hotel Fort Raleigh is slated for demolition. (Manteo Preservation Trust)

Manteo’s landscape has seen many changes since it was incorporated in 1899. Original buildings have been replaced by new structures due to storm damage, fire and development. Yet even with the passage of time and circumstance, the town has continued to keep its distinctive charm.

Changes are again under way as preparations are made for construction of what is being called the Manteo Town Common. The location of the venture is on land situated between Ananias Dare and Budleigh streets.

A site map shows an aerial view of the proposed project’s location. Three specific parcels under consideration are outlined, each represented by a different color: red, yellow and green. Both the land and the properties are owned by Dare County.

Dare County Manager Bobby Outten has confirmed that all the buildings on those plots are set for demolition, though the process is on hold until the town finalizes its plans for the project.

The buildings to be razed have been or currently are used as county government offices.

On the Ananias Dare side, the first of the two buildings designated for removal is at 200 Ananias Dare Street. That property currently houses the Dare County Youth Center. The center serves as a hub of activities and other resources for children living in the county.

The second building at 204 Ananias Dare is vacant but was used for many years as the meeting space for the Dare County Board of Commissioners, and for the county office of Veteran Services before both were moved to the government complex.

Over on the Budleigh side, two buildings to be leveled have been classified as historic properties by the Manteo Preservation Trust: the Edna Evans Bell House and the Hotel Fort Raleigh.

The Manteo Preservation Trust is a local nonprofit formed by a group of citizens in 1999. The purpose of the organization is to bring public awareness to Manteo’s historic, agricultural and cultural heritage.

The trust has done much to assist in the preservation of properties in Manteo, and in 2006 completed a catalogue of 120 structures they deemed as having historical significance.

Red: Hotel Fort Raleigh (right), Bell House. Green: Dare County Youth Center; Yellow: Vacant, former Dare County Commissioners meeting room.

Several of the properties recorded in their catalogue have also been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. But they include neither the Bell House nor the Hotel Fort Raleigh.

The Edna Evans Bell House at 217 Budleigh Street is currently the site of the Dare County Public Defenders’ office. The property was constructed by local architect Robert E.L. Scarborough of Wanchese, who also built the Hotel Fort Raleigh.

Prior to being bought by the county for governmental purposes, the building served as the home of Edna Evans Cofield Bell, who built her property next door to the home of her parents R.C. and Delia Evans on what was at the time the Evans family homestead.

Edna Evans Bell House. (Victoria Bragunier)

Edna’s father R.C. Evans — whose full name is Richard Coles Evans — was one of the residents of Manteo who helped establish the town. He was influential in organizing the building of the Manteo Mount Olivet United Methodist Church, creating Manteo Cemetery and establishing the town’s first bank.

Bell was also the sister of Mabel Evans Jones. Jones was elected as the first superintendent of the Dare County Public Schools and produced a silent film in 1921 on the Lost Colony.

Though Edna Evans Bell is not as well-known as some of her family members, her unpublished manuscript My Birthplace and My Home, which can be found at the Outer Banks History Center, details the history of Manteo and has been used as a reference by writers and historians for multiple books on the subject.

The property located at 211 Budleigh Street is vacant and been sitting derelict since 2015. Purchased in 1974 by the county to use as its administration building, it now is a shadow of its former self when it was once the Hotel Fort Raleigh.

Built in 1930 for Carson Creef and Claude C. Duvall, the property’s construction is rumored to have been funded from the sale of moonshine.

“They were renowned bootleggers and they made East Lake rye whiskey,” explained John Wilson, former town mayor and a founder of the Manteo Preservation Trust.

The product was called East Lake Dew. “It could be found in the finest bars and was exported to London and Paris,” said Wilson.

The old Hotel Fort Raleigh was later put to use by Dare County. (Manteo Preservation Trust)

The three-story building with its Mission Revival style architecture was a luxury property in its time, and featured a restaurant and 30 private rooms, each with its own bathroom.

Some of the hotel’s famous guests include U.S. Rep. Lindsay C. Warren, who along with other members of the congressional commission to establish the Roanoke Colony, stayed at the hotel in 1932 for a planning session.

The hotel continued to operate until its was sold in the early 1970s to Jennifer Frost and Lilias Morrison. The new owners renamed it Grenville Arms and turned the property into an apartment complex.

Due to the building’s extraordinary history, efforts have been discussed to save the structure. In 2015 the town was informed by the N.C. State Historic Preservation Office that due to the significant alterations made to the property, it would need to be restored to its original state to be considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Dare County has also tried to save the property, going so far as to work with Preservation North Carolina to find a buyer. None was found.

The vacant building at 204 Ananias Dare Street was once the meeting place for county commissioners. (Victoria Bragunier)

Estimates received from Oakley Collier Architects in their architectural and engineering assessment quoted a cost of over $1 million to bring the structure up to code, and more than $2 million to renovate.

“It’s a sad day for Roanoke Island to lose these historic properties,” said Wilson.

A preview of what the old hotel and the Bell House properties will become is illustrated in a rendering provided by the town showing the proposed locale viewed from Budleigh and Lord Essex streets. The drawing displays an area with ample parking; ornamented with trees, shrubs and flowering plants.

Formal discussions regarding the project began at the April 2018 annual budget retreat held by the mayor and the Manteo Board of Commissioners, when the direction of the town common began to be explored.

Though the project appears to be a recent invention, the subject of finding an effective mechanism to remedy the town’s lack of parking and its effect on the patronage of local businesses has been the topic of discussion for some time.

Addressing the matter, Manteo Mayor Bobby Owens remarked, “there is a serious parking problem in downtown Manteo, and we need to do something about parking and promoting the unique businesses downtown.”

Further development of the idea for a town common was taken up at the July 2018 town commissioners meeting, when Owens reported he had been approached by the county regarding development of the project. By consensus, the board decided to move forward and work with the county manager to advance the plan.

Since then, six public comment sessions have been held on the subject, beginning with a presentation last fall by design consultant John Robbins, who offered a conceptual plan of the property to solicit stakeholder feedback, and culminating in a final rendering presented in April at the town’s Board of Commissioners meeting.

The results of public input reveal the most requested use and features for the project be that of parking and green space.

“I am grateful to the many people who have given their time, talent, ideas, and creativity to this process as we work together to design the town common,” said Manteo Town Manager James Ayers.

Being a large project, the town has spent a significant amount of time on programming and planning of the site. No estimate has been given regarding when construction will begin.

The next steps include cost estimates and finalizing the plan for the county’s review.

A Memorandum of Agreement between the town and the county will need to be signed allowing the project to be built. That agreement would require approval by both governing bodies.

Funding for the endeavor has been a topic of concern for the Manteo Board of Commissioners, and they have been reluctant to commit money or raise taxes to pay for its construction. Currently the town’s administration expects building costs to be funded by grants from multiple sources.

Responding to the status of the plan, Owens said: “I am tickled to death with the way this project is coming together.”

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  • It's time...

    …for a multilevel parking garage in downtown Manteo. That is the only way to provide adequate parking space near the town merchants. And the number of parking spaces that could be added in such a facility are badly needed during the Town of Manteo’s special events.

    Monday, Jun 17 @ 3:18 pm
  • OBXer

    I agree. The park looks nice, but parking is always a problem in Manteo. Look at the parking decks in Savannah, Georgia. They are disguised and don’t take away from the charm of Savannah. Think about it, Manteo.

    Tuesday, Jun 18 @ 6:27 am